MARK T – Blues @ Zero (Circle Of Sound COS335CD)

Blues @ ZeroMark T brings his signature mixture of blues, folk and rembetika to his new album, Blues @ Zero, an album of which he’s rightly proud. Mark has had a long career, both as a soloist, band frontman and as a member of Traditional Arts Projects. He first appeared on record in 1983 and with The Brickbats in 1986 and two members of that band, Mike Townsend and Tim Hill, are still here. Also present are Rootdogs, Fran Wood and Mysterious Bob, Paul Midgely, Paul Critchfield and Greg Cox.

The set opens with ‘Willow Tree’, a resonator guitar song on which Mark sounds weirdly like Ian A Anderson, followed by ‘Svornato Horo’, another original in the style of an Eastern European folk dance. Then comes ‘Rootdog Blues’, a gently rolling blues sung by Fran – until about the midpoint when she lets rip with all the vocal power she’s known for. Next is ‘Jasmine Green’, previously a single featuring Iqbal Pathan on hand percussion. By now you’re just looking forward to what will happen next and that’s rather the point; this is an album made by old friends who enjoy playing music together and don’t erect any barriers.

‘St. James Infirmary’ is a new version of the old song put together by Tim, Mark and Paul Critchfield and that leads into a traditional Irish tune, ‘Tommy Billie’s’ arranged by Mark, and Paul Hancock, who plays whistle. ‘Mama Shile Oga’ is probably my favourite song in the set and the chat as it starts and ends echoes the relaxed feel of the album. Mark says that he first heard the traditional refrain years ago and when he came back to it he realised that it had mutated in something quite different.

‘Zeibekikos Dance’ is traditional Greek and ‘Shortman’, sung by Fran is a delightful double entendre – or is that just me? ‘Rembetika Tim Hill’, co-written by Tim and Mark speaks for itself – Tim solos on mournful sax that’s more jazz than eastern Mediterranean. Arthur Crudup’s ‘That’s Alright Mama’ ventures into rock territory thanks to Cox’s drums and Critchfield’s electric guitar but the band maintain a stately pace which is rather nice. Mark wrote ‘Lucy Farr’s Reel’ which is played on bouzouki and whistles while ‘Ducks On The River Wye/Nyabinghi’ is perhaps the oddest track. The first part is a blues and the second, which is used as a refrain, is about an African queen. Finally we’re in western Europe with the traditional ‘Deux Aires D’Andro’ with Paul Hancock making his uillean pipes sound like a goat-bag (I think).

If you’ve been counting that’s a total of fourteen tracks mixing styles from three continents and it’s a whole heap of fun. Treat yourself.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Zembekikos Dance’ – live: